Social Coexistence and Our Role as Citizens

Photo credit: AK
Photo credit: AK

Nowadays we often hear or we even are a part of the discourse in Armenia concerning the existence, establishment of a civil society, the type, form, state and society of the latter, the discourse formed over society and individual, etc. Multiple definitions are given like emerging, marginal, unhealthy, a society in transition. Nevertheless, this analysis does not pursue a goal of examining the categories of state-civil society-individual as the subjects of national security and does not also pursue a goal of extending over this paradigm or addressing a numerously-raised question of which are subjective and objective reasons as a result of which we have a lame civil society. 

The analysis pursues an objective of primarily discussing the category of social coexistence with components typical to it and then addressing the role of citizens in the environment of coexistence.

Social coexistence

Social coexistence is a variously perceived phenomenon which is formed according to several geographical, ethnic and demographic, historical, cultural, spiritual, religious, economic, political, etc sub-bases. Each coexistence depends on the ongoing economic, technological, biological and demographic conditions which directly influence the fate of the coexistence. Hence, coexistence is viewed as a system that operates within certain time and territory, aiming to first of all provide a balanced state towards its inner components as well as towards the surrounding environment.

Since ancient times the category of ” a human coexistence” has been the subject of focus of many philosophers, and different thinkers have offered their approaches concerning the formation and establishment of the latter. The concept of social coexistence or civil society (the category of civil society is viewed here as certain aspect of social coexistence or certain degree of the latter) has gone a long way from Aristotle to T. Hobbes and Al. Tocqueville. In ancient times (Plato, Cicero) the starting point was the provision that intrinsically imperfect human beings need to cooperate with the ones like them in complementary format. They explain the origination of a state by the fact of natural desire of people to contact, with contractual theory. In order to provide mutual security people came to an agreement by concluding social alliance which became the basis of a state’s origination. That is, when creating a state people consciously pursue practical goals and interests. State is defined as ”a perfect union of free people concluded for the sake of maintenance of law and common benefit”.

Each new thinker of the theory of ”social alliance” like T. Hobbes, B. Spinoza, J. Locke found a specific meaning in it during their century and they let the notion have controversial role in different theoretical and outlook systems. According to the above-mentioned theorists, having created a state as a result of social alliance, people only then acquire the status of a citizen. Civil conditions and society are forms of lifestyle, more civilized and providing guaranteed opportunities of law management. Consequently human beings and their rational actions are important social forces. Plato’s interpretation is interesting: speaking about the nature of the environment of coexistence, the philosopher attributes an anthropomorphic character to it.

 This concept has been further developed by various thinkers from Plotinus to Augustinus, from Hegel to the representatives of French school of Annales. It turned that the actions of coexistence were identical with the main functions of human beings- metabolism, self-realization and rational self-governance.
So, metabolism includes production industry- organization, management of public work, distribution of the obtained results. Self-realization represents mechanisms of self-defense, self-assertion and respective institutions of the given coexistence. As for self-governance, this covers functions of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-direction. On the one hand these are embodied in the form of cultural, on the other hand in the form of political values and respective institutions. This image of social coexistence regularly receives social challenges from external and internal environments and aims to develop balanced responses.

Qualitative aspect of the proposed challenges and responses is of a great importance because the typology of the latter is dependent on it. However the existing typology is not immutable. It is regulated automatically and according to certain community-building programs. And if such programs are absent or an algorithm of adequate responses does not develop, sooner or later that unanswered situation will lead to the decadence and death of the society.

Value system of coexistence

If we discuss the environment of coexistence, then we should realize that the axiological field is extremely important over which coexistence forms and consolidates. And so the key elements of the environment of this anthropocentric coexistence are the very values like environment, morality, justice, social responsibility, freedom, material values, etc. The question is: which values do we all believe in today or what kind of attitude do we have towards what is already created and towards our legacy and what are the values that we will  pass on to the coming generations?

As Camus would say: “If men cannot refer to a common value, recognized by all as existing in each one, then man is incomprehensible to man.”18th century British politician, statesman and orator Edmund Burke referred to this and many other issues in the best way in his moral theory. It is true that Burke’s philosophy was in line with European way of thinking of his era, however, even today it is not anachronic also because of the simple reason that it discusses the issue of a person’s “internal development”. Highlighting the importance of “a moral world order”, his purpose was the transfer of human beings’ ”inclinations of private life’ to their public life and to serve it for the revealing of the underlying circumstances. One of the fundamental ideas of Burke’s theory is what public debt is: the philosopher believed that one of the fundamental elements of civil society was the fact that no one can judge and act only based on their own desire. Therefore, everyone is responsible for others. In modern scientific terminology, society formation takes place in 3 time dimensions known to us-present, past and future. Imperatives of control and restriction proceed from here. At this level Burke highlights the ideas of ”public debt” and “responsibility”. Rights of an individual are priority in a society not as that of a person but as of a citizen, for real freedom is the social freedom which requires the limitation of individual’s desires. The concept of inheritance was also put into circulation viewing it in the context of public relations of generations and solidarity, stating: ”Society is an alliance but it is not an alliance of coffee or tobacco trade. It is not determined by the animal instinct of human survival. It includes all sciences, arts, moral values and norms. Society is an alliance of many generations. It is an alliance between those living now, dead and those who will be born in the future.”

Indeed, under the influence of social relations those values, that transfer from one generation to another are formed. Within a society, which is a complex and multifaceted coexistence, harmony must be created regardless of heterogeneous relations. And naturally it is clear that the establishment of ”the common good” or reforms are not the result of short-term attempts but require more time measurement and greater efforts. The question now is whether we want to change our reality and whether we are ready to make great efforts. The choice is ours.

Our role as that of citizens

The present situation, that is our creation, necessarily initiates a certain future, but in such way that we are absolutely unable to imagine, and it comes from the information of our present. I will not be wrong if I mention that at least 96% of population of the Republic of Armenia is discontented. Discontent has become a trait of national character. Indeed, the reasons causing dissatisfaction are numerous but as it has been mentioned in the very beginning, the aim of this analysis is not to discuss objective and subjective reasons of this matter, but the real goal is to try to understand what each of us does or what each of us can do in this situation.

We often hear about Armenia being a democratic or a non-democratic country. We complain about having shortcoming even in case of democracy. But what is democracy ?

In my understanding democracy is a human being’s internal state of how they treat themselves and society. Democracy implies the society of free people. In addition when we say “free” first of all we mean responsible people. Slaves are the most irresponsible people because their master is responsible for them. They do not take responsibility for anything while a free person does.

There either is a sense of responsibility or not. Am I not responsible for my country at least for the most basic questions like throwing trash in a wrong place or am I? I have a feeling that the answer of the majority is: “No I am nor responsible and why should I be responsible for anything?” It is hard for me to say whether irresponsibility causes indifference or on a contrary, or maybe both have the same bases.

The problem of indifference, the roots of which can also be found in the ancient world, are still actual and urgent. When speaking about the latter, in my opinion it is relevant to cite some parts from Antonio Gramsci’s (1891-1937) article “Indifference” (Armenian translation has been recently published) in which the author speaks up about his hatred towards indifference and indifferent people. And this is directed towards those layers of society for which the existing reality is viewed as given and in which an alternative reality is not even discussed.

Even some centuries ago Greek influential politician, legislator and poet, one of the “seven sages” Solon (nearly 640/635 to 559/558 BC) adopted a law according to which “during a civil discord the citizen who has not joined one of the sides of armed forces must lose their citizenship and not take part in state affairs.” It turns out that if internal conflicts occurred within a society, the reprehensible citizen is the one who, instead of joining one of the sides, stayed indifferent. It appears that indifference is the major evil of a society. The goal of adoption of such law was to disroot social indifference and to make citizens take part. “In other words, to be a participant means to be productive, organized and purposeful, instead of “resting on laws” take part in current events, break and change stereotypes, be creative. I hate indifferent people and I do believe that to live means to be a participant. People without a city simply cannot exist.” This last idea of Gramsci is like Aristotle’s definition, according to which people are either gods or animals outside a polis. The one who really lives cannot help being a citizen, cannot help being a participant. So the formulation that indifference is not a life but it is an unwillingness, parasitism, cowardice. What takes place in fact does not occur because some people want it but because mass of people declines their will… when everything is done, the majority of such people conversely prefer to make judgements about destruction of ideas, about complete suppression projects and other similar pleasant phenomena. In that way they continue to avoid responsibility… Gramsci’s idea summarizes: “I hate indifferent people also because the whimper of always innocents makes me angry. I require response on how they accomplish the objectives that life has given and continues to give them every day and what they have done, especially what they have not done. … I live and I participate.”

Indeed, each of us first of all must be accountable for what we have and have not done.

And what kind of consequences does public indifference and irresponsibility generate? Indifferent society gets easily manipulated by accepting everything that is served as a fact, like poor quality education, lower quality art, illiterate elite… Yes, the line is long! And as a result, a society becomes just a mass of consumers, we have a lumpen society based on false values. It seems that the expression “the worse, the better” has become a motto itself. And these are the challenges that we as citizens are to give answers.  Otherwise, as it has already been mentioned above, that unanswered situation will lead to a more decadence of a society sooner or later. Society-building projects must be undertaken, taste must be formed, new values must be created, or already created values, ethical (moral) and aesthetic realities must be reevaluated: instead of taking the role of just a passive listener or orator one must be a participant and take part.

Brodsky wonderfully formulated the importance of taste. He stated: each new aesthetic event adjusts one’s ethical phenomenon for a person. That is, aesthetic taste determines an individual’s ethical perceptions. As aesthetics is the father of ethics, the concepts of “good” and “bad” are first of all aesthetic notions. Aesthetic perception makes one more of a private individual and that individualism, that sometimes forms as taste, can itself at least be a way of protection from slavery if not a guarantee, because a person who has taste is less likely to be susceptible to all displays of political demagogy.

Indeed, the richer one’s aesthetic experience the more stable their taste, the clearer their moral choice is, the freer and therefore more responsible they are.

Today it is constantly repeated that we are a small country, we have many problems: that is certainly not wrong but here is an observation about being a small country: Yes, we are not big, but a small one can also have a power. We can view Greek-Persian war (500-449 BC) as a good example of a small’s power, when 2 systems collide- Eastern pyramidal civilization that was represented by Achaemenid Empire which had a huge territory extending from Egypt to India with the population of 27 million, and Athens on the other side with limited territory and limited human resources of 0.5 million, lacking natural resources but having technologies of society management and individual’s self-cognition. And this small mass was able to win the majority due to its one important advantage. This was the secret of the small’s power. That is, the Athenian polis represented an environment where the citizens of the polis where of the uppermost value. What I mean is that our task is to be Great citizens of a small country, according to the words of Maurois ‘’to be great even in small things’’

Society is an environment of social masks. Shall we engage ourselves in politics and which mask should we wear during it? Indifference towards politics is also one of the ways of political activities. It seems that the one who is not engaged in politics wants to say: “I do not care about my own city, my own country and about the whole world.” Your destiny also depends on politics, but are you ready to sacrifice your well-being for the sake of being left alone? It is not mandatory to be actively engaged in political procedures. The only thing that they want from you is to have the needed outlook, your own opinion, simply put, to be able to play the role of a citizen.

All the social values like justice, freedom, equality, ethics are firstly within an individual’s personal expression and only then within the rational implementation of social contacts. Remaining faithful to the system that is in a conflict with life isn’t not compromising, it is a stupidity. One must think not only about today but also about tomorrow. Ideals form our actions.

One must believe in the power of will, our possibilities depend on what we would dare to do, one must always be ready without pondering about limits of those. As Shakespeare suggests: “..The Readiness is All”.


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Author: Anna Khachyan © All rights are reserved.

Translated by Tatevik Tumanyan